John Carpenter in Review: Prince of Darkness (1987)
Plot: A vat of mysterious liquid is found in a church. A research term is asked to come in and figure out what it is. Soon, strange things begin to happen and members begin dying off.
Prince of Darkness is the second in John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy. It is a very complex supernatural thriller. At least it wants to be. Much of the conversations are made up of quantum physics and existential philosophy. It was a meeting of the minds between science and religion blurring the big thick line that separates them as they try to figure out this centuries old mystery.
It includes some of the more frightening images Carpenter has ever concocted. This includes an army of possessed bums who surround the church as well as a man who decomposes into a pile of bugs and other filth. It is an action-horror that effectively leads you on until the final tension explodes.
Nevertheless, it is a wholly imperfect film. The cast is entirely amateurish. They are clumsy with the scientific and philosophical terminology, and their chemistry is a bit off, personality-wise. This does not seem like a group of researchers who have been together for an entire semester, most likely longer. They are the kind of amateur that you expect to witness in a director’s earlier films before he makes a name for himself, not a director like Carpenter who had already cemented his place in the horror hall of fame. Although it may be possible that he was trying to accomplish that debut film feel.
The effects are charmingly outdated, but you can tell that great care has been taken to make them the best they could possibly be going beyond whatever constraints they had at the time. The aforementioned bug man was pretty excellent. I just cannot get over the look of some of the worse effects. The possessing water that shoots in and out of the characters’ mouths was occasionally cheesy looking, and the zombified face of one character was just not up to snuff. It looked too much like a gunky mess sitting on top of her face.
The movie has an amazing set-up, one that is ambitious for a horror gore-fest. It admirably tries to be intelligent. It just has some lackluster payoffs. It does however award you for your attention. It keeps you drawn in with its frantic pace, and it is punctuated with a fantastic ending, one that is cleverly hinted at throughout the runtime.